Big changes are coming to Florida’s commercial pool code. One of them will create more design opportunities; two of them will outlaw color and material options for the sake of safety.

Let’s start with pool finishes. For commercial pools in Florida, white and pastel have been the law of the land for some time now. But industry associations and state officials are implementing a measure to more accurately ensure that hues skew light.

Under the sixth edition of the Florida Building Code, which will be signed into law in December and goes into effect in late 2017, plaster colors will be limited to those that pass an analysis that measures the amount of light a pool’s floor and walls reflect on a scale of zero to 100 – zero being black. It's called a light reflectance value.

Proponents of the new code say it solves two problems:

1.) It takes into account what the color looks like both wet and dry. This is important because regulating authorities will demand that builders rip out a previously approved pool finish when it appears darker than expected under water.

“We really need guidance because there is nothing worse than … having the health or building department say ‘Nope, take it out,’” said John “J.C.” Centera. He’s the president of the United Pool and Spa Association, a Florida-based group of commercial pool builders and engineers.

The new law should eliminate those nightmare scenarios by forcing finishes to meet some hard and fast numbers to even be considered for application. The code specifies that a coating must have a dry lightness level of 80 or greater and a wet light reflectance value of 50 or greater, “as determined by test results provided by the manufacturer. ..”

2.) A scientific determination will establish a consistent standard statewide. The language of the current code is too subjective and open to interpretation. It only specifies that surfaces should be “white or light pastel in color and shall have the characteristic of reflecting rather than absorbing light.” Because of this, what’s permissible varies across Florida’s more than 600 local building departments and 13 regional health department offices.

The new language was developed after months of discussion and research that included the participation of the Florida Swimming Pool Association, the Department of Health and pool finish manufacturers.

There is a drawback, however. Subjecting colors to a screening process will prohibit some mixtures that are commonly used today.

“We were using finishes that had white backgrounds or were pastel in color that, once we did the quantitative wet and dry analysis with the LRV, found that they did not meet the standard that we had always thought they met all these years,” Centera said.

This isn’t a problem that’s unique to the Sunshine State. Nationwide, designers and plasterers have had major hang ups with building officials over what colors are acceptable. UPSA hopes Florida’s standard will provide guidance for other states.

Tile, too, will be under increased scrutiny. The state’s building code will require nonskid tile around the horizontal surface and leading edge of a rollout gutter, which are common in Florida commercial pools. This adds a safety precaution to the existing law that already demands anti-slip surfaces on stairs.

This type of gutter is routinely used by bathers to sit and stand on. Injuries and lawsuits have occurred, according to several UPSA members, Centera said.

While the plaster standard had the support of both UPSA and FSPA, the tile code was strictly a UPSA effort.

FSPA’s president, Rob Sanger, isn’t thrilled with the measure. Nonskid, bullnose tile is currently only available in a narrow 2-by-6-inch size, which isn’t as easy to set as a square tile. He hopes suppliers develop more code-compliant products.

“We’ll use those in the beginning," Sanger said of the 2-by-6s, "but I don’t think manufacturers will catch up as fast as we need them to."

Finally – something many designers will rejoice over – sun shelves will be legal once again.

A once-popular feature in resort pools, Florida put the kibosh on the shallow lounging areas years ago, fearing that children would fall off the shelf into the deeper part of the pool. But Aquatic Design & Engineering succeeded in convincing officials that double-level pools, when designed correctly, are harmless.

The Orlando-based firm, which has offices in Dubai and Dallas, Texas, said that the only place it can’t build shelves is in its home state.

“It’s been proven safe all over the world,” said Josh Martin, president and creative director. “Why can’t we do it in Florida?”

Building officials eventually came around. Now the features can be built with certain perimeters and circulation configurations that prevent shallow water from stagnating.

With the sun shelves sanctioned, Martin anticipates renovation requests.